Words, photos and horrible video by Matt Maziarz
We’ve all seen the super cool videos of FPV racing on LED courses. Folks like David Moquay from FPV Lightrax create dazzling displays using the LED Neon Rope lights, sculpting them into incredible shapes and then laying them out in a sweet course to challenge, yet entertain the pilots and spectators. The problem is, many of us (myself included) dream of flying such courses at our own fields or even in our own yards. Heck, I’m sure that many of you have rigged up some sort of LED course in the dark just to get your fix. Well, I have done my fair share of trial and error DIY gate building and have finally settled on a setup that works incredibly well, looks great, is easy to transport and setup and best of all … is mighty friendly on the wallet.
I tried LED ropes from the big box stores with varying success, but couldn’t ever get the lighting just right. I also tried LED strips from various hobby purveyors, but also had issues with setting them up and eventually looked elsewhere as the cost and labor intensive nature was wearing me thin. What I ultimately found was some super cheap, but super bright battery powered LED neon ropes from Amazon.com that are marketed for “party” types (raves and such) to wear during their festivities.
They come in either nine or sixteen foot lengths, are powered by two AA batteries and can be programmed to stay on solid, blink slowly or blink rapidly. Here’s the best part: for $17.95 I got a 5-pack of different colors in nine foot lengths and two sixteen foot sections for around $8.00 a piece. The LED ropes themselves are only 2.3mm in diameter, but are very bright and so flexible that they can be folded back onto themselves. They can also be cut to any length needed.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
TRANSLUCENT PIPE: PEX pipe from Home Depot
PIPE/CONDUIT STRAPS: ½ inch 2-hole metal electrical straps
HARDWARE: Wood Screws to secure your gates to a foot pad
MISC: Strapping tape, batteries, scrap wood
Before getting started, let me clear something up first. I used the PEX pipe from Home Depot because it’s translucent, it’s amazingly flexible, it’s very cheap and Lowes doesn’t carry ten foot sections of the white stuff in 3/8 inch diameter.
Basically, what I did was bend the ten foot PEX pipe into a circle, doubling up the pipe on the bottom with a six inch overlap (to utilize the nine foot strips of LED rope). Once formed into a circle, I wrapped the overlap section with two pieces of the strapping tape and then bolted them to a 24 inch piece of leftover deck board I had in my wood stash. I used ½ inch straps (even though two pieces of 3/8 inch pipe together is bigger than ½ inch) to crush the pipes together to a certain degree so that the circle would stand up straight. Once the circle was in place and upright, I threaded the LED rope all the way through and was ready for action.
The nine foot diameter pipe and LED gates provide for a 34 inch diameter circle, which is more than large enough for Tiny Whoops, Nano’s and House Racers. However, there are a number of barbed 3/8 inch fittings that can be used to create all sorts of shapes for gates, including hanging gates and elevated sections. I considered hot gluing or screwing the bottom of the cicle to the wood, but ultimately decided to leave the pipe clamps as the sole means of retention for two reasons: 1) because I’m lazy and 2) because if anyone smacks a gate, it will flex and bend, rather than breaking. Even if someone folds a gate in half, it can easily be manipulated back into shape. If tiny machines indoors are not your thing, the ½ inch PEX pipe is much more rigid, but still bendable enough to form a nice tight circle if you want to create larger gates for larger drones.
To finish off my custom race course, I used the two longer LED ropes. On the ends of the sixteen foot sections, I taped the LED down onto linoleum tiles in the shape of arrows, leaving about ten feet of length in the middle. That lets them serve as course markers, laying them out in between gates. I normally set them on the rapid blinking while the gates themselves are set on constant. Using the smaller circle gates from the Gate System, I had about three feet of LED leftover, so I also equipped them with linoleum arrows. Lastly, I tend to use my gates outdoors and in the dark (duh). Such an endeavor could be hazardous to electronics, even if it’s not raining, as there might be dew present. To rectify that possible problem before it reared its ugly head, I snagged a few outdoor extension cord union weather-proof boxes, effectively sealing each control box and batteries in a sealed box (The LED strips themselves are waterproof).
- Bend pipe to desired shape
- Tape pipe ends together with overlap
- Secure pipe gate to wood (or other such pad) with straps
- Thread LED rope into pipe
- Have a ball!
Each PEX gate, LED’s included, cost me less than 10 bucks! That’s insane considering what you’d pay for such gates from a reputable dealer or source.
My race course is awesome, I really must say so myself. So far, I have only built two of the 34 inch PEX circle gates, but have also LED equipped two of the small circle gates from the RISE Race Gate system as well as the square bridge gate. Using the longer arrowed sections in combination with the gates transforms my small house into the ultimate LED race course. I did grow tired of burning through AA batteries, so tore open a bunch of the boxes to add secondary battery plugs for 1S LiPo batteries with a JST plug. Honestly, I was chewing through so many AA’s because I kept forgetting to turn them off. I get about two hours of light time on an 850mAh 1S from Dromida and about twice that on two AA’s from MaxAmps. Ii hope this helps some of y’all out there in drone-land create your own drone amusement park and by all means, get creative and do much, much more than I did!